If ever I decide to leave the church entirely, I need to be reminded of three things. 1) The fruits of the spirit, in particularly set to songs from the 1980’s kids musical, The Music Machine. 2). The hymns my grandparents loved. 3). Bread and wine.
While I could recite song after song from both The Music Machine and old hymns, it’s the infusion of food into the Christian faith that roots me to Jesus. Bread and wine.
I wish I had something deep and insightful to say about breaking the bread and pouring the wine, but I can think of countless authors who can say it much more eloquently then I can. Shana Niequist in Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, Sara Miles in Take This Bread, and Rachel Held Evans in Searching for Sunday.
Instead, I think of holy moments in my life, so many of which contained bread and/or wine. I remember distinctly my first time at family camp. It was a cold February weekend in which the camp directors learned how to plan for rain. The last service of the weekend was communion. We had a wonderful weekend and decided we wanted to do family camp again and again and again. However, my most vivid memory of the weekend was the food–not only the moving, prayerful communion service at the end, but also the meals which were felt so extravagant. We felt so loved and ministered to by the meals that were made for us.
Once a month (or what is a goal for once a month but has lately been once a quarter)’ two girlfriends and I go out for dinner. These meals almost always contain bread and wine, but we do not bless the meal using our church words or eat in remembrance to God. Instead, those meals are a time of confessing our humanity, with lots of laughter thrown in the deliver grace to each other. Though we are just three, we are also church to each other. We order food communally, pass plates around, and share sips of wines from each other’s glasses. We also get to try out restaurants we’ve been wanting to go to that our husbands may not enjoy so much. It is holy.
It’s the meals I remember about trips. The large post wedding family brunches that I remember even better than the formal rehearsal dinner. The sung blessings, in four part harmony that reminds me that food is a part of my Christian faith.
Maybe this all my justification for loving food and being a foodie. However, food is one thing I have in common with every single human throughout the world. I need food to survive. I find ways to season my foods–salt, fresh herbs, fresh vegetables, a splash of lemon or lime, just like everyone else seasons food to add a little extra flavor.
Can I say I am a Christian because of food? Is that allowed? Because I am. Nothing moves me like a shared meal or a well written chapter (or book) about communion. Food is more than about me. I don’t remember those meals I’ve eaten all by myself (except for a few really tasty lobster rolls or sunny side up egg sandwiches). It’s eating with others, sharing stories around a table, laughing, serving one another. Food reminds me how to love my neighbor (casseroles after a baby is born) and that I can’t wait for perfection (extravagant hospitality can also happen in a not magazine worthy house).
And before anyone worries unnecessarily about me, I am not saying that food trumps Jesus’s resurrection, the unfathomable Grace of God, or the mysteries of the Holy Spirit. Food, the shared meal of bread and wine, is the frequent everyday reminder of the wonders of the Holy Trinity.
I tried to get rid of Buzz Lightyear on Monday.
I couldn’t do it.
Buzz made it into the box of toys for Goodwill. None of the kids had even looked at Buzz in the past several years. He was vanquished to a bin on the bottom shelf and hung out in the dark with other forgotten toys for years. When I was cleaning Isaac’s room, I came across Buzz. I put him into the Goodwill stack. I loaded said box into the car later that morning, drove to Goodwill, and deposited the box (with Buzz) in the massive donation bin. I glanced back as I walked back to my car. I couldn’t do it. I turned around quickly, apologized to the Goodwill worker, snatched Buzz out of the donation bin, and returned him to the front seat of my car.
While it may sound otherwise, this isn’t a story about how I prevented Toy Story 3 from happening in my house.
This spring, our Sunday School class, studied Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Excess against Mutiny. You need to know this about our Sunday School class, we don’t read books. Most of our series involve a video and study guide. If there is outside reading, we skip it. It’s just how we roll. We worked through her videos and her study guide questions, discussing the seven areas of her life she fasted from for a month each. We compacted the study from 9 Sundays into 7, and then the study was over.
Expect it wasn’t. A couple of the women of our class decided that the class was just an introduction to fasting. They wanted to experience a bit of the fast Hatmaker challenged us to in the study guide (but that we ignored). A Facebook group was started, modifications were made to take into account summer vacations, and the group of men and women were off.
First, we fasted from food. While none of us did a traditional fast, we all found fasts to fit our lives. Our family decided not to buy any new groceries for an entire week in an attempt to experience running out of money at the end of the month. I was more creative with cooking than I hoped to be the last week of school, but I had no problem keeping our family fed off of what was in our pantry and freezer. However, more conversations were had around the dinner table and we discussed what life is like for some families in our school. As a follow-up, we are going shopping for food for a neighborhood food pantry before the end of the summer.
The second two week segment, we fasted from clothing (we only fasted for one of those weeks). I chose 7 pieces of clothing to wear for one week. I am sure those other people at swim practice were wondering by the end of the week if I was wearing the same shirt every single day (I did). The children didn’t participate in this one with us, but we discussed it as a family and decided to take money from our clothing budget to buy a super mosquito net for malaria prevention in Africa.
Which brings me to this segment–possessions. In the possession process, I have gone thoroughly through rooms looking for things we can part with. The goal was seven things per room, but it averaged out more to twenty (or more) things per room. I went through almost every kitchen cabinet, kids’ drawers and closets, my drawers and closet, the laundry room, and anywhere else I could think of. I purged things and organized. My desk looks the best it’s looked in years–so does my pantry. I sorted my stuff I was getting rid 0f–A Half Price Books pile, one for Goodwill, and one for the Freestore.
I got rid of lots and lots of stuff. However, to look at my house, no one could tell I had just given away more than 100 things. A few spaces look less cluttered, but more because I cleaned deeply than because I have significantly less. It’s only after getting rid of what felt like a lot did I realize exactly how much I had. I could probably go through each space again and find 100 more things to purge.
Why do I have so much? Why do I keep so much? What pulls on me the most about my possessions?
Which brings me back to where I started–dropping Buzz off at the Goodwill donation site. My weakness is being able to part with things that I am not using. I have a box of baby clothes that I am saving longterm for each child, until I get around to making them into a quilt. I have a bin in the top of John’s closet with baby and toddler toys and books, just in case (not of another child for us, but all the other just in cases). I have train tracks and roads boxed up, along with the Play Mobile castle so that some day, my grandchildren may have toys to play with at my house.
And then’s there Buzz. Buzz is a symbol of my children’s preschool years. Those years, which I thought would never end, are over. I left Buzz on the couch where he was briefly admired and played with before disappearing back into John’s room. Buzz plus the pictures and videos are all that are left of John as a three year old. By holding onto Buzz, I get to keep just a glimpse of who John was way back then.
My children are growing up. Quickly. Over and over this summer we’ve had new firsts that have heralded greater independence and less restrictive schedules. For the first time, Madeleine and friends were allowed to explore Schlitterbahn without me. For the first time, Madeleine would call friends on the phone and arrange to meet them at the pool. For the first time, we stayed up late enough for fireworks on the Fourth of July.
So I am keeping Buzz a little bit longer. I’m not ready to let him go yet. I’ve loved this summer with my kids–they’re mostly so much fun and we’ve enjoyed exploring together. I love the elementary ages (I am getting glimpses of the middle school years already, and I must admit, I am scared).
Buzz Lightyear gets to stay though. At least for awhile.
I’m having a hard time going to church right now. Seriously hard, like I’ve never really had hard time before. All those years in college, I went to church without much problem. True, I’d go spurts without going to church, but it wasn’t accompanied by feelings. Those two years I dated the long-haired, hippie, agnostic social worker I went to church, in fact it was during that time I found the church that would lead me to my husband.
Not so much church. I feel guilty. Mounds and mounds of guilt. What sort of example am I setting for my kids, especially since one in particular vehemently protests church on the Sundays we go?
I just can’t though. I blame it on going back to work. I started needing Sundays for Sabbath–a brief morning of not getting people dressed and out the door for something. I needed a day that wasn’t full of “should’s” or “need to’s.” It started with a missing a Sunday or so a month here and there. May came and since then, we’ve been twice. I now make it to church a Sunday or so a month. A few of the Sundays I spent doing school work. Two of those Sundays we were out of town. Another Sunday I went on a glorious bike ride in the cool morning along a creek valley. Last Sunday we went to a state park and played in waterfalls, a lovely pool of water mostly to ourselves. They have been wonderful Sundays: Sundays full of family, being outside, and slowing down.
I haven’t missed church at all. And I feel terribly guilty about this. There is more guilt surrounding the not the missing church than the fact we haven’t been going to church.
Church had a become a struggle. By the time Sunday school came around (after worship) I found myself combative and argumentative. I was tired and worn down from the week and getting everyone in the car for church.
I’ve read the articles how church isn’t about me. It’s about serving others and worshiping God. The point is not “what I get out of church,” rather it is what I can contribute. I’ve been doing “it’s not about me” for years now. I can’t do it any more. For years, I looked for things to hold on to and contribute to, but one by one, I’ve felt those things drifting away, whether it was programming changes or simply being tired of making the 45 minute rush hour drive to evening activities.
It’s trickier though, this taking a break from church thing, these days than it was eleven or thirteen years ago. With children, I worry about how I am scarring my kids and hurting their future relationship with God. With Curtis, I worry about working through this process together. This pulling away isn’t just about me, it’s about all five of us. How do you visit new churches with kids in tow? How do you find a place where everyone will fit in when all five of you have different needs? How do you figure out the difference between a church’s website and “programs” and the actual church?
The truth of that matter is this, despite it being a rough five years (not without gloriously bright spots), we aren’t ready to completely leave our church. Those ties are so strong–meeting Curtis, marrying, baptizing our children, and discovering some of our best friends all within the walls of that church. History and sentimentality creates a tight knot to wiggle our way out of.
In the midst of this spring and my pulling away, I started reading Rachel Held Evans’s new book, searching for sunday: loving, leaving, and finding the church. While this book didn’t cause my separation, it has reassured me in the separation. Sunday resounds with me, because like Evans, I love church, I still identify as Christian, I still love learning more about God, Jesus, and exploring my faith. While her story differs from mine, unlike Evans, it is not a difference of theological beliefs that pulls me away, it was a relief to read her words about needing to leave a good, nurturing church who brought you casseroles when someone had a baby or was sick. Sometimes, it’s ok to take a break. Sometimes it’s ok to stop trying.
I need permission to stop trying now. I need forgiveness for the judgmental thoughts I had when others stopped going to church. I need to grace to surround me as I struggle to believe I am still beloved of God even if I am not doing what the Christian establishment (versus God) tells me I need to do.
We’ll continue to take our break this summer. We’ll continue to breathe deeply fresh air on Sunday mornings, sing God’s praises as I bike along creek valleys or watch my children frolic in water falls. We’ll continue to meet with our small groups to figure out how God is urging us to grow and raise our children in ways that are more congruent with the life of Jesus. We just may not show up on Sunday morning much.
When it’s time, we’ll be back at our church or we will figure out a church that is a better home for us. It’s not time for that yet. For now, it’s time for Sabbath rest, for being with family, for not fighting battles, and for being refreshed from a year full of changes.
Well, so much for my New Year’s resolution to blog once a month. Here it is June, and I haven’t blogged since March. Interesting thing is though, somewhere in April, I lost the need to write. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometime in March or April, I finally started adapting to this working full time thing. I equate the whole process to the stereotypical freshman year of college.
I still remember from over 20 years ago hearing people warn me that the first semester of college is rough, especially if you left your hometown. Hang in there for a whole year, people told me, because it takes at least a semester to get settled in. I fell back on that wise advice over and over this past year. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my first semester of teaching this year–I did! It was full of thrills and excitement and sheer adrenaline from this wild jump I took. However, I found myself missing my former life a lot–trying to carry over as much of the old as possible into this new adventure. By the middle of the spring semester though, I started to set down the burden of my prior years at home. Those things I tried to hold on to “maintain who I was,” I no longer needed. It was ok to have freezer to oven meal every once in a while–I didn’t have to cook something from scratch every single night. I didn’t need to bake in any free moment I had. And, I didn’t need to write to keep my voice and creativity. I was finding a new voice in teaching and creativity in lesson plans. I walked away from this blog, briefly, because I didn’t really need it for my survival.
With all that said, I am back! It’s summer time now and I have more time in my day to choose what I want to do. In my short week and a half of summer vacation, I’ve baked blueberry muffins multiple times, slowly drank coffee, pinned recipes for blueberry jam (and not freezer jam at that), ordered 30 lbs of tomatoes for processing, seen my brother married (yippee!!), and have sat down to write. I feel sweet and glorious freedom of planning my days. I lay in bed this morning and debated working on the kids picture albums over the summer. I have even managed to go on my first bike ride since October (which feels like an eternity ago).
On my first blog post in month, I wanted to do an edition of What I’m Into–School Year (and first two weeks of summer vacay) Books Edition. We’ll see what I can remember! This may get long… Pull up a chair and let me help you with your summer reading.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer. I read this in the midst of other books about WWII. This one hung with me longer than some of the others. It takes a slightly different bend than many of the books I read in that it began in Paris, France and the protagonist was a blind French girl. At the same time, a parallel story was that of a young German soldier, who didn’t necessarily buy into the Nazi Germany propaganda. It was an amazing story.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I just finished this book and it was amazing. I had heard about it a year ago from the SheLoves book club and decided I wasn’t interested in it. Since then, it popped up on my radar over and over and over. A month or so ago, I started perusing the online summer guide reads and saw this book on at least three lists. So, I decided maybe it was time. Incredible. It’s a bit of a hard read at times because Adiche talks about racism in the US. There’s more on my thoughts on that later, because I’ve realized over the past year how being “color-blind” about race can be harmful as well (because it doesn’t let us see the blatant racism that runs rampant in almost every system within the US). Highly recommend this book.
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. I had thought the Inspector Gamache Books were finished after How the Light Comes In. Turns out, I was wrong! As always, the Inspector Gamache books are an enjoyable read, with the right balance of mystery, depth, and avoidance of gore.
MadAddam by Margaret Atwood. This was the end of a trilogy that started with Oryx and Crake about 10 years ago. The series is science fiction/fantasy, looking at what may happen to our civilization if it continues on the current path we are on. The beginning of the book was incredibly disturbing with a lot of violence (including violence against women). However, once I got past the beginning, I enjoyed this book and found myself thinking about it for days after I finished it.
Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarity. This is a pretty popular book right now. I didn’t like it. Too much dysfunction and unhappiness. Too many abusive relationships. I don’t think I’ll read any more of Moriarity’s books.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I loved this book. I love Gladwell. That’s all.
The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Purse and I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley. The Flavia de Luce mystery series is another one I really enjoy. This are safe, fun reads I know I will like and good for those times when I don’t want to take a risk on a book.
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. I was hesitant to read this book when our book club chose it for the spring. Turns out, I loved it. The netflix show was a bit to graphic and over the top, and I was worried the book would be the same. It wasn’t at all. Turns out it was more about the state of the prison system and the subculture it creates than a fluffy comedic drama that’s made for TV. I’ve thought about this book countless time since I’ve finished it.
The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley. Meh. Didn’t like this book.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Curtis and I went to see the movie and I had a hard time liking the character of Cheryl Strayed in the movie. I found I could relate to her and like her a lot more in the book. I enjoyed this book, but didn’t love it.
Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. I love Jen Hatmaker. This book didn’t challenge me as much of some her other writing and found a little bit of repetition between Interrupted and 7. I still liked this book though.
Dragonfly in Amber by Diane Gabaldon. This is the second book in the Outlander series. This is the last book in the Outlander series that I will ever read. The end.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Heartbreaking book. I devoured this book on a plane (I can read on planes again! Yippee!!).
Exploring Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. Normally, I find Sedaris laugh out loud hilarious. This book I found more bittersweet–the funny stories seemed tinged with sadness and longing. I think it could easily have been the mood I was in while I read it. My favorite stories were the ones in which he invented new characters.
In recent years, I’ve become more and more aware of the phrase, “Seasons of Life.” It never dawned on me when I was young and in college that life could be described seasonally. It was more linear then. Seasons implies a cyclical nature– times of dying and hibernation, times of dormancy, times of growth, and times of just surviving the heat (at least that’s our Central Texas season).
What brought about this seasonal introspection?
I was laughing at myself this past week about my former struggle with acedia. Acedia, I thought. What a novel and somewhat appealing problem to have, I reflected as I watched my week become fuller and fuller until I was sure it would all over flow. What is it like to not know how to fill my time? I wondered as I debated if the laundry would really get washed (much less folded and put away) and groceries would ever be bought. Time for restlessness and searching seemed luxurious as I wondered if I could grade papers at the boy’s baseball game of if that was being a “bad mother.”
There’s my word for the year again. As I was chastising and mocking myself with my struggle with acedia back with the littles were actually little, I remembered my word.
All of which brought me to my seasonal introspection.
While I can’t quite ever remember being quite this “busy” before (and trust me, I am not wearing busy as a badge of honor. On me, the word “busy” burns more like the scarlet letter), I have had seasons of my life when I juggled many things. I look back on my year of teaching when I was pregnant with Madeleine and working on my National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification and wonder how in the world I sat for a 3 hour essay test when I was 35 or 36 weeks pregnant. I remember that picture I have of me sitting on the couch nursing Madeleine while I graded papers. I remember rushing out of school to pick her up in time for daycare and using any spare moment I had at school to pump. How in the world did I do that?
The season of just surviving the heat
When Madeleine was a year old and I had just gotten pregnant with John, I quit teaching and started working for Curtis. I struggled a bit that nine months with who I was now that I longer taught and with crazy, crazy pregnancy hormones. Many tears were shed. What had I lost by quitting in teaching? What was my purpose in life? What gave me meaning? Where did all my friends go (work friends in particular who were now on a completely different schedule than myself)?
The season of dying and hibernation.
What a sharp contrast to when I no longer worked. I scheduled my days, I craved routine because when it was just me and John and Madeleine, there didn’t seem to be a lot of routine. Monday’s were laundry days. Thursday was our play date day. Friday was cleaning day. Wednesday was grocery day. I had a schedule for what I would deep clean each Friday, just so I had some schedule.
The season of dormancy.
I spent a lot of time those years at home learning. I read books and books on cooking. I tackled complex baking projects and cooking projects because I desired to do something with my brain besides watching PBS Kids and trying to answer Madeleine’s constant barrage of questions. “What’s under the road, Mommy?” was asked every.single.time we got into the car. I started digging deeply into my faith, strengthening my faith practices, learning more about the Bible and Bible history. I started a food blog and a blog about how many family was growing for my out of state relatives who could only watch my children change from afar. I started writing here, realizing I may have something to say that others wanted to listen to.
The season of growth.
Here I am again. Back in the season of just surviving the heat. That nice long season of growth that intermingled with the seasons of dying/hibernation and dormancy I have found is helping to sustain me. I’ve done spring season with soccer, baseball, and soon to be added swimming enough years to know the overlap is short lived. I can do it, even with extra time challenges this year. Those years I spent collecting recipes on food blog provides me with many, many quick and easy recipes—recipes I can make ahead and freeze, or put in the crockpot before a game or practice and have a meal when we get home. I’ve mastered the 45 minute meal (30 minute meal is a mythical creation, like a Yeti, a leprechaun, or dragons) that incorporates lots of vegetables from our CSA box.
Those years of praying and reading also help me get through the long heat. I know now, this is but a season. I thought the season of my children being young would never pass. It has. My baby will be six in April. Six. He just participated in his first Math Pentathlon tournament, is learning how to read, and will be done with kindergarten in June. I’m not quite sure how this has happened. I thought acedia would torment me forever. Not so. My seasons of dying, hibernation, and dormancy have taught me how to thrive when things are changing–find time to read occasionally, find a close, small group of friends that let me drop in and out of their lives as my schedule allows, and continue to look for things to add to my ever growing thankful list.
I am gentler with myself now. I’ve given myself (our family) permission to just not do everything, whether it’s skipping the math pentathlon awards or missing children’s choir rehearsals and an occasional Sunday morning church. Sometimes I’m particularly whining about what is withering under this hot summer sun. The next morning, though, I wake up and see the flowers that still linger from the spring and beauty that comes from heat.
Before I know it, the season will pass, whether it is due to the age of my children, the years of teaching experience I have collected again, or eventually retirement. It is well. It is well. All manner of things are well.
It is March 8, 2015. This date has double significance. First, it means that I need to have all papers graded and grades entered by Thursday morning, which means at this exact moment, I am procrastinating. Second, and more importantly, it means that today is International Woman’s Day.
Here in the USA, we too often overlook this day. Other than the interesting Google doodle that people glance at and momentarily wonder the significance, International Woman’s Day is ignored. Why do we need to pay attention to International Woman’s Day? Women have the same rights as men the US, right? We vote, we drive (unlike in Saudi Arabia), we hold jobs outside our house, and we arrange our own marriages out of love, not after parental decisions. We are not subject to female circumcision. Our lives are pretty good, we think.
We forget that those in faraway places are our sisters–sisters who are forced into marriage at 14 or 16 (or 12), sisters who can’t get loans, sister who aren’t allowed schooling, sisters who can’t drive cars, sisters who are circumcised sisters who die or are deformed from improper care in childbirth. They are our sisters. As they suffer, we should be aware of their sufferings and do something.
We forget that even in the US, women are subjected to different standards than men. Women are bossy or pushy, instead of demonstrating strong leadership skills like men. Women are expected to dress in ways that encourage men to be respectful of them, instead of men being expected to be respectful of women no matter what they are wearing or what they have had to drink. Women’s maternity leave and rights in the US are some of the smallest in the developed world. Men and boys are excused for any trouble they may get into because “boys will be boys,” or “he is all boy.” It is still an insult to be called a girl.
As long as my daughter feels like she needs to dress a certain way so the boys will stay play tag with her, we need International Woman’s Day. As long as I hear stories about high school science teachers ignoring and being condescending to girls in their advanced classes, we need International Woman’s Day. As long as women need to be airbrushed to be in magazines or advertisements, we need International Woman’s Day. As long as women and girls are insulted for their appearance or being strong, we need International Woman’s Day.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 NLT
We need International Woman’s Day to raise our voice and recognize that even in the US, there are still double standards and oppression against women.
A short booklist of influential or life changing books on women:
Half the Sky-Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (there is also a PBS documentary by the same name and a follow-up book/documentary: A Path Appears).
Half the Church– Carolyn Custis James
Jesus Feminist-Sarah Bessey
Heart of Flesh -Joan Chittister
The Friendship of Women– Joan Chittister
Today, in addition to recognizing that we still have so far valuing women’s lives, opinions, and personalities as much as men’s, I am remembering all the women of valor (those Proverbs 31) women in my life. As Rachel Held Evans, said in her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, being a woman of valor doesn’t mean using Proverbs 31 as a checklist of the impossible tasks women are to complete. Rather it is celebrating those valorous things the women around us do all the time–with strength of character and walking with God, whether it is taking care of a sick baby, nursing a child in the middle of the night, choosing not to have child, becoming a successful business woman, becoming a doctor or a pastor of a church, teaching, caring for others, making executive decisions for a household or business. The list is endless. I am thankful to have been surrounded by women of valor my entire life–spunky women, women of faith, women with a sense of humor, women who felt compelled to do something for someone, no matter how little or big. Today, I honor them as well.
According to your great complassion, blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my inquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Of all the Holy days leading up to Easter, Ash Wednesday is my favorite. The church, even at the noon service, is somber, quiet, and dark. The hymns are often on the slow side and in a minor key. I know it’s bit odd for my favorite service to remind me that I came from dust and will return to dust, but there is something reassuring about that.
I didn’t make it to church yesterday.
I struggled to figure out how to make it work. Maybe a sitter for the boys so I could go while Curtis did the soccer carpool? Then baseball practice was scheduled for that evening as well and I simply gave up.
For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
For Christmas, I received Sara Miles’s new book, City of God. I eagerly read her book in January. Miles describes in her book the development of their church’s Ash Wednesday outreach. In late afternoon and early evening, Miles and others from her Episcopalian church head to the streets of the Mission district with ashes, to remind those who couldn’t make it to church that they would return to dust.
I was fascinated by their outreach, but at the same time questioned it. Could ashes be given without a proper reading of Psalm 51? Would the lack of somber hymns in minor keys diminish the meaning of the ashes? Would the people really know what the ashes meant without a pastor to explain it to them? How much of my Ash Wednesday experience that I loved was simply made up of fluff, instead of what really mattered? What really did matter on Ash Wednesday—the administering of ashes or the church service surrounding it? I wasn’t sure. Was it simply a show? Did you need to be a card carrying church member to get the ashes?
I didn’t make it to church for Ash Wednesday.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
On Wednesday, I checked out Micha Boyett’s, one of my favorite occasional bloggers, blog. She had a repost for Ash Wednesday about an Ash Wednesday that didn’t quite go as planned a few years ago. While that year, she did make it church, minus her husband, she remembered a year in which she didn’t. Her husband was out of town and with two small boys, church just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, she burned some leaves in the backyard and marked herself, stating the words to herself. Her preschool aged son noticed and wanted the ashes as well, so she marked him, too.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
It was bedtime before Curtis and I had a chance to check in with each other. He hadn’t made it to church either. We both lamented the fact that less than three hours were left in Ash Wednesday and we missed being marked with the cross, with a reminder of our humanity and our need for God. We had talked about our Lenten practices for this year in passing earlier (at supper maybe? Or was it when we were filling up water bottles for practices?) and decided to read a Psalm together.
Curtis read aloud Psalm 51, the one I remembered being used at every Ash Wednesday service I’ve ever been to. After he finished, I leaned over to him. “Curtis, from dust you came and to dust you will return.” Lacking ashes and being a little bit shy for some reason, I skipped marking his head with a cross. He looked at me in the eyes. “Melani, from dust you came and to dust you will return,” he replied as he made a cross on my forehead.
Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
I didn’t make it to church for Ash Wednesday service.
Church happened in my house, without a pastor and without somber hymns in minor keys. We remembered together where we came from and our ultimate end in the reading of Psalm 51 and simple words said over each other.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
Italics are selected verses from Psalms 51